Christine Daae and the Class System in Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera
“Pride when there is a real superiority of mind…. Pride will always be under good regulation.” ~Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Often there are two themes in romance. A heroine lured into the dangerous world of the underground by the “bad boy” of literature, or she has her eyes set on the life of a titled lady.
Christine Daae, in Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, was a woman in limbo and trapped between two different classes: the aristocracy and the underground. She had to either choose the hero, Raoul, and his aristocrat life or choose the anti-hero, Erik, and live in the world of deviants and freaks.
In reality, Christine belonged in the bourgeoisie–between the middle class and the nobility–where image was everything. Leroux knew this and built his plot around it beautifully. Christine was a social ladder climber–a heroine interested in furthering her career, but also drawn to the idea of a title. I don’t believe for a moment that Christine didn’t’ realize that marrying a nobleman would bring her social admiration. She desired that popularity, but at the same time, wanted her career. Many readers forget–by marrying into the aristocracy, Christine would have had to leave the opera. Her life on stage would have been over. By resting comfortably in the bourgeoisie world, she could have it all. The career she wanted and the rubbing elbows with the upper classes that made her look desirable.
The bourgeoisie wanted the privilege of the aristocracy but also the freedom from their power and rule. Fashion was as important as outings to salons and the opera. They had to flaunt their status wherever they could. What better place for Christine then as the star of the opera? The bourgeoisie made sure they were noticed by the right people in restaurants, gardens, and boulevards. They mimicked whatever was in style at the time and placed etiquette first in order to mirror the noble image they wanted to obtain.
This is the perfect place for Christine. Here she stayed safe in an upwardly mobile class while desiring Raoul and his title, and at the same time furthered her career with Erik. Image-was paramount in Leroux’s novel and he built much of Christine’s internal conflict off this clash of the class system.